Eshwaramma who works as a daily wage labourer at the Kakatiya thermal power project in Telangana's Warangal district, was on her way to the power plant when she saw us. Upon seeing us, she said, “This village will be shifted only after my death", assuming the writers were representatives from the government.
Since the beginning of the operation of the Kakatiya Thermal Power Project (KTPP) in 2009, the city folks have been reaping the benefits of the plant, while the people who sit right next to the plant have been suffering dire consequences because of the plant. The locals have been facing numerous problems in the form of crop yield loss, cattle deaths, and adverse health effects as a result of air pollution due to the fly ash leakage, water pollution and effluent discharges.
The Kakatiya thermal power project began its operations in the village of Dubbapalli in the year 2009, aiming to generate 500 MW of electricity, has now been increased to 1,100 MW. The power plant is maintained by Telangana State Power Generation Corporation Limited (TSGENCO).
The village’s name — Dubbapalli — pretty sums up the story. ‘Dubba’ stands for dust and ‘Palli’ stands for a village, the dusty village. Although the village has been called this since ages, its current situation is quite tragically ironic.
The fly ash which is generated from burning coal gets discharged into the ash pound and the sizeable fly ash is sold in the open market to manufacture bricks and to lay roads. An ash pond is an engineered structure for the disposal of bottom ash and fly ash. The wet disposal of ash into ash ponds is the most common ash disposal method, but other methods include dry disposal in landfills. Dry-handled ash is often recycled into useful building materials. To collect the fly ash for commercial purposes, private vendors often send their trucks to collect ash from the ash discharger. And the process isn’t exactly neat. The villagers witness ash spills and discharger accidents on a regular basis. This ash covers the village roads, houses, and surrounding area including the croplands, where the ash gets carried by the wind.
To tackle the problem of fly ash, the plant authorities water the road at regular intervals. But the solution ends up posing as a road hazard to the villagers. The water made the ash into a paste, turning the roads slippery. A number of villagers have been hurt in accidents as a result.
The summers are the worst part of the year for the villagers. Ramulu, one of the residents, says: "The ash and dust which is near the ash discharger, ash pound and from the power plant gets carried by the wind towards the village and covers entire village like a cloud. Bathing every time we walk into the house has become a routine for us."
The ash gets which discharged into the ash pond has been polluting the water bodies nearby. The water from the power plant carries ash, acid and various chemicals, which often finds its way into the nearby Morancha vagu, a freshwater stream. This water has been polluting the lake as well as underground water. And some of the water naturally gets into the nearby paddy and chilly crops as well, destroying the soil fertility and affecting the crop yield. This same polluted water stream will join river Godavari after few kilometres.
"About a decade ago, we used to sell a minimum of 50 bags of paddy per acre, now we are lucky if we get 25 bags from an acre. The ash has completely changed things around here,” says chilli farmer Rajeshwar Rao while explaining the plight of the farmers.
Dubbapalli along with the surrounding villages of the Chelpur (M), was once known for the finest, hottest chillies in the state, but no one shows interest in buying the same chilly produce from the farmers.
Googleoth Satyam, a tenant farmer for more than ten years, who belongs to the Lambada community(Tribal) from Pilluri Ramayya Palli village within a 5-kilometre radius of KTPP says his harvest has been drastically decreased from 22 bags of chilli per acre in 2009 to 10 bags of chilli per acre in 2018. He adds at last he will quit farming if he sees the same trend in next yield.
“We are now forced to sell the harvest by claiming that the produce has come from another neighboring village. The once famous Dubbapalli has no value in the market. What can be worse than this?” laments Malahala Rao, the head of the group fighting for the rights of the displaced residents. Malahala isn’t alone in his anguish, most of the villagers face a similar fate.
The number of pulmonary ailments in the village has gone up substantially. The fly ash has been causing various lung diseases, rashes, skin ailments and the asthma incidence has been increasing each year.
Biklla Ramesh, who has served as a rural medical practitioner in Dubbapalli village for over two decades, says: "One of the major problems with which villagers come to me regularly is heavy breathing. I have noticedan increase in respiratory problems, the major victims are children. People also complain about body pains and joint pains."
The government primary and high schools are located inside in Kompally and Rampur, just 2 kilometre from the KTPP plant and half a dozen private schools in the radius of 5 kilometre. Going by the findings from previous studies of incidence and prevalence of asthma and other chronic respiratory ailments among children, it can be expected that these symptoms would be significantly higher among these children than those unexposed to this kind of unhealthy environment. Adults living in the area are also likely to be affected. Given this situation, the EIA (environmental impact assessment) should be done to study the health impact on people around the KTPP plant.
Teachers from Pilluri Ramayya Palli said that there is a significant change in the children’s health and that they fall ill frequently. The teachers are equally exposed to this health hazard and those who have worked for more than two years in the school have experienced a gradual decline in their health. Many children complained of fatigues and said that they are no longer able to run longer distances like before without getting tired.
The village welcomes with a notice board which says, ‘The rehabilitation work of this village has been initiated, so no new construction should be done by order.’ This has become the nightmare for the Dubbapalli villagers. This board was fixed about seven years ago. Since then they were not allowed to construct any new buildings, not even renovation works. Most of the villagers are economically weak they have predominantly old kuccha houses. The different weather conditions and no timely repairs to their houses have led to cracks in the walls. Few houses have already collapsed and many houses have utterly dilapidated. Due to the government's order, they are unable to make any repairs or reconstruct their houses. The state has failed to give at least any kind of rain covers to cover roofs during the rainy season. And to their utter distress, the sheer number of monkeys in the region isn’t helping the situation either.
KTPP in an RTI replay said, "TSGENCO is pursuing with district revenue officials very frequently & Rupees 29.65 crores have been deposited with RD)/Mulugu in different spells towards the land compensation for the acquisition of agriculture lands and Rupees 25 cores have been deposited with RDO Mulugu towards implementation of R&R package vide letter D.O.Lr.No.CMD/CE/C/T/KTPP/F.Land acquisition/D.No.201/17 Dt.30.11.2017."
In the same RTI reply, they said, "….the layout of plots in the allotted open land of 32 acres in survey no 134 has also been completed by panchayat raj department."
Dubbapalli was not rehabilitated till date under relief and rehabilitation scheme for which the government has surveyed the village multiple times and made the estimates for each property. Despite the multiple estimations, the villagers have been relentlessly protesting as they are not happy with the compensation announced in lieu of their land. The Dubbapalli villagers have been protesting since the plant commissioned to rehabilitate from the current position.
The first phase of the land acquisition of 961 acre was done in 2006 to construct a facility to produce 500MW and in 2012, the second phase of land acquisition was done to add another plant with a capacity of 600MW. The second plant was commissioned in 2015. No compensation was given to those whose land was not acquired but as they still reside in the same village, they are required to be compensated according to the new Telangana Land Acquisition Act,2017, which is an amendment of the 2013 LARR. The state is also legally bound to compensate all the villagers who reside in this village even though they have been previously compensated, as they reside in this village which has not been rehabilitated. The new act provides the legal framework for those not rehabilitated to be provided new compensation including the landless.
The TSGENCO and Telangana State Pollution Control Board, regional office, Warangal, responded to RTIs seeking information about the displacement and pollution monitoring reports of the plants. The numerous inspection reports by the Telangana State Pollution Control Board conducted by the in 2012, 2014 and 2015 point out to the gross negligence of the plant authorities in handling the hazards flyash pose. The reports also mention that treatment plants for effluents and sewage are yet to be installed even after seven years of the plant coming into operation. The report further points out how the plant hasn’t yet installed an ash handling for the stage-II operations.
The villagers wait for the government representatives to turn up bearing the news of relocation but to no avail. Neither has the government provided them with a respite from the many effects of the pollution. Which brings to the age-old question of whose development is it?
Beeram Ramulu, who is associated with Rythu Swarajya Vedika, says “I have been seeing this problem from starting. Compensation should be paid for the Dhubbaplli villagers for not shifting them from the present location and making them suffer due to pollution for all these years. They should be rehabilitated immediately”
The Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees that “every person enjoys the right to a wholesome environment which is a facet of the right to life. Hence under the Indian Constitution, right to life includes the right to a wholesome environment, as such, and violation of it invites judicial redress by way of Constitutional remedies under article 32 and 226”.
With no one ensuring the protection of their right to life, the villagers of Dubbapalle suffer at the cost of development that’s taking place hundreds of kilometers away, in the cities. With no alternative, the villagers are forced to live as bitter consequences of the development that they never get to have a glimpse.
Rajesh Serupally is a freelance researcher and associated with NAPM and Hema Vaishnavi pursues her MPhil in Sociology from IIT Hyderabad.
Updated Date: Aug 21, 2018 17:19 PM